Meet The Disruptors: Eric Vermillion Of Helpshift On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

--

The most important job as a manager is to help your team find their next job. I’m not sure where I picked this up, but I’ve always subscribed to it. Sometimes it sounds a bit counterintuitive — like you are encouraging people to leave — but it never works that way. If people know you are passionate about helping them advance their career and support their ambitions, they will be a part of your team forever.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Vermillion.

Eric Vermillion is the CEO of Helpshift, a San Francisco-based company that develops mobile customer support software that helps companies provide better customer support in mobile apps. Before Helpshift, Eric was instrumental in advancing BlueCat to one of Canada’s most notable software exits and also helped grow revenue at NICE Systems to over $1B. He has also held sales and leadership roles at PTC, Tecnomatix and Triad Systems Corporation. Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in management from Purdue University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After graduating from Purdue University in the late 90s, I got lucky and found the world of software. Most of my college friends took jobs with Arthur Andersen, or Caterpillar, or in the automotive industry. But I took a shot at a Bay Area software company and found great joy in selling software. I loved the idea of something intangible — that you couldn’t touch or feel — being able to bring such tremendous value. I liked the challenge of it and I loved the outcome. I can point back to products that became more affordable, services that became better, or ways our world became more secure because of projects that I was involved in over the years. That’s probably a statement anyone that has spent their career in software can say, but it’s pretty cool, nonetheless.

Today, I find myself at Helpshift, because I’m a tough consumer, and I know the support experience can make or break the perception of any company.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Modern consumers have become accustomed to nearly instantaneous results. They want to be able to resolve issues on their own terms, with self-service, 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, brands are hamstrung by legacy support models that are heavily human-dependent and extremely complicated, often constrained by limited hours of human availability. And, while mobile apps provide a secure, contextual gateway for support, they are often ignored.

Companies that want to engage with their consumers through a mobile app need to do so properly — by keeping the entire experience in the app. It’s stunning to see the number of brands that think it’s OK to spend a ton of resources trying to drive people into their mobile app, then when their users need help (often during a frustrating and/or vulnerable moment) they are hit with an eject button that boots them out of the app. What often happens is that the user then gets sent to a web form and they are at the mercy of business hours and agent bandwidth to get a response… often days later! Or, even worse, they might be given a phone number where they need to listen to terrible “hold” music for an hour.

Modern consumers despise this process yet so many brands ignore it, accepting it as the way it has “always been done.” If you don’t believe me, pull out your phone right now and try to connect to support through any of your apps.

Helpshift allows brands to empower their customers to orchestrate their own support journey, on their own time, through the brand’s mobile app. By connecting to their existing CRM and CX tools, a company can onboard Helpshift very quickly, easily modernize their customer support journey and give consumers what they really want.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Let’s just say it involved a three-way call, back when you actually had to click the handset over and then do it again to fully disengage the second line. My engineer and I left a very humiliating voicemail for a prospective customer that ended up being played over the PA for the entire company right before our arrival when we later visited. Hundreds of people glared at us… Oops! Fortunately, they had a sense of humor and saw that our software could bring real value, but I had to learn a tough and highly embarrassing lesson. Double-check to make sure that you completely hang up the phone!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I had one boss that told me to take a giant pay cut and a new role that would allow me to learn more than I ever did in my career. He was right. I had another boss that would regularly ask me to compromise my family or my beliefs. He was wrong. One of my early bosses hammered home the value in taking care of the people that take care of you. He was 100% right. I could tell 100 more of those stories, but I’m grateful for all of them because I learned something each and every time. There is one particular professional mentor that I’ve never worked for or with that has consistently challenged me to be very intentional and direct in what I want and has always been there to give me tips and ideas with nothing expected in return. Everyone should have someone like that.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think the customer service industry is a perfect example of this. It used to be as simple as making a phone call or walking into a store. Fast forward to the present day and we’ve added email, live chat, chatbots, SMS, IVRs, social media, and all sorts of other stuff and coined it “omni-channel support.” The bottom line is that the consumer has a problem that you need to resolve. You have a number of options, but solving your issue isn’t necessarily any easier, and in turn you’ve made things profoundly difficult for the agent trying to orchestrate it all. We’ve seen a lot of new technology and industry disruption. But I’m not convinced any of that disruption has made it easier or more convenient for customers to solve their problems.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

If you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve made some professional decisions because of money and none of those ever worked out great in the long term. The decisions I made out of passion, or a desire to be a part of something great, always have.

Find the 20% of the job your boss doesn’t like to do and figure out a way to do it for them or help them with it. I learned this one from MLB Executive Theo Epstein, and I love it! The people who work hard to help their boss be more successful usually end up being successful themselves and being promoted. There is a real strategic value to the entire company for people who think this way.

The most important job as a manager is to help your team find their next job. I’m not sure where I picked this up, but I’ve always subscribed to it. Sometimes it sounds a bit counterintuitive — like you are encouraging people to leave — but it never works that way. If people know you are passionate about helping them advance their career and support their ambitions, they will be a part of your team forever.

Always value people and relationships over stuff and things. I attribute this to my mom. She was a schoolteacher, and she was always amazed at how much more joy she saw in the kids who shared stories about their time with family and friends than in the kids who couldn’t wait to talk about their new toy or their fancy car. I’m grateful she took the time to ingrain that in my head, because I’ve always tried to be very intentional at work and at home in making sure that regardless of the financial success you find, the relationships, the experiences, and the memories are always the most valuable.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re looking at ways we can continue to help consumers take control of their support experiences. As mobile apps continue to grow in relevance in all our lives and the world becomes increasingly digital, being able to get help when you need it is going to become even more important. Many of the traditional support channels are going to struggle to keep up. Companies have spent a lot of money on CRM and CX tools, and those will remain relevant and important tools for companies. We believe in leveraging the mobile app, connected effectively to those CX and CRM systems, to empower consumers to personally orchestrate a modern support journey on their own terms. As companies look ahead to a future world of digital and virtual commerce, we will continue to support them in innovative ways that ensure their consumers have an always-on way to get help whenever and wherever they are.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’ve always loved Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action. It must be 10 or 12 years old now, but it talks about a timeless truth. None of us are really that unique on paper — it’s the vision that you paint and the ability to get people to believe in it that makes all the difference. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. This one is attributed to Wayne Gretzky and it has resonated with me throughout my entire career. Fear of failure is such an inhibitor to progress. You often have to fail or miss the mark to find success and everyone should embrace that. I always try to foster an environment where trying new things and not being afraid to miss the mark is okay. I think we live in a world that often wants instant gratification, but the gratification after working hard, working as a team, missing the mark a few times, and then finding the sweet spot is about as pure as it gets.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d find a way to limit social media exposure to 90 minutes or less per day for everyone.

The social media companies would be fine as scarcity would drive higher ad prices.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericjvermillion/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

--

--

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market